Facing closure by the Philadelphia School District, the struggling Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD) has agreed to surrender its charter.
While CHAD leaders said the agreement contemplates the school transitioning to district management, district officials would not comment Monday on the school’s future beyond its closure, slated for the end of next school year.
“We would not be taking back a charter,” said spokesperson Lee Whack. He declined to comment further ahead of a school board vote on the agreement Thursday.
The agenda item for Thursday’s vote says that as part of the agreement, the district and CHAD “agree to explore the establishment of an architecture and design school or program managed by the School District.” Even if they don’t reach agreement on a school or program, CHAD will still have to forfeit its charter, according to the agenda item.
In a letter to staff last Friday that was shared with The Inquirer, Lance Rothstein, president of CHAD’s board of trustees, described the agreement as “a first step to enable us to work together in CHAD’s smooth transition from a charter school to a School District of Philadelphia architecture & design public school.”
“Our goal is to successfully work with [the district] in the creation of a newly invigorated city-wide High School for Architecture & Design,” Rothstein wrote.
Rothstein — whose letter said CHAD presented the agreement to the school board on May 28 — did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
If the board approves the agreement, non-renewal hearings for the charter — a lengthy and costly process — will be canceled, and CHAD will surrender its charter on June 30, 2020.
The agreement comes after CHAD hired a local charter management company, String Theory Schools, as a consultant for $60,000 a month. CHAD was also prepared to hand over management — and 8 percent of its revenue from the district, which funds charter schools — to String Theory, which manages two charters in the city and is seeking to open a third.
Rothstein previously said that CHAD hired String Theory to demonstrate it “was doing everything in its power to save" the school.
Asked whether the district determined that the hiring of String Theory was insufficient to remedy problems at the school, David Annecharico, a lawyer for CHAD, said, “Not that I’ve heard.”
“I think this is more or less a long-term strategy that the board of CHAD and [district] administrators are discussing,” said Annecharico, who also represents String Theory.
Jason Corosanite, String Theory’s chief innovation officer, said in a message that he was “happy to see the school have a pathway forward. This was a positive step for them.”
CHAD and the district’s “collective vision,” Annecharico said, is “to continue CHAD’s mission, around the architectural and design space, with an emphasis on helping minorities into this underserved area of work.”
The former School Reform Commission voted a year ago to not renew CHAD, citing concerns over its academics, finances, and governance. Test scores had been declining at the school, as had attendance, and it wasn’t compliant with special education requirements, according to the district.
The charter was founded in 1999 with the goal of sending more African Americans into architecture. As part of their agreement to explore a district-operated design school, the district and CHAD plan to reach a memorandum of understanding by Sept. 30.
Annecharico said CHAD and the district plan to “begin talks to convert the school to a special-admission-type school." He was not sure what specifically the district envisioned.
According to Rothstein’s letter to staff, CHAD’s program and course offerings will remain in place through the 2019-20 school year, and staff will remain employees through the year.
After that, all staff will have the ability to become School District employees in the 2020-21 year, the letter said. Staff will become members of the applicable union, “with associated pay and benefits.”